Published: January 22nd 2008January 22nd 2008
Aventuras en el Oriente Part 2: Baracoa
We arrived to Baracoa by a combination two of my favourite modes of transport in Cuba: camión(truck) and luck. The crazy evangelist Jorge took us to the truck station and busybodied us on to the right one, waving us goodbye with a cry of “que Dios les acompañe!” (may God be with u) and a gesture of praying hands toward the sky….! Another of his classic moments.
The truck to Guantanamo, (yes, where the US nanal base is, tho its apparently so hidden away that the telescope tourist trap isn’t really worth it) was 5hrs of chilly early morning-squeezedinsoyourarsewillachetomorrow-dust-strewn-bumpiness. Like the legendary chicken buses in Honduras, it’s one of those exhausting and uncomfortable but also unforgettable travel experiences, when u r suddenly in such intimate proximity and comradeship with complete strangers. Some ppl (Corinna, pobrecita) hate it. I love it. The scenery (not always easy to see, depending on how many ppl r rammed in) was stunning. Once out of Santiago, it was countryside, rivers, lush rolling hills and fruit plantations. In Guantanamo we waited a few hours for a camión, with no success. We started thinking we would spend NYE with
our backpacks at the side of a road in Guantanamo. Until… like a blue mirage appeared an ASTRO bus with a sign on the front saying Baracoa, which to our confusion and joy was almost empty. Yaaay! Much as I love camiones I was so glad - it was about 5 more hours to our destination! The scenery was again gorgeous. It started off as an arid semi-desert landscape with cacti and aloe vera lining the deserted black sand beaches we passed. About an hour from Baracoa, began La Farola (the lighthouse road), which is more like a helter-skelter through dramatic mountains down into the lush tropical paradise of Baracoa. I was getting more and more excited and already thinking I didn’t want to leave even before we arrived.
Baracoa was where Colón (Columbus) first set foot on Cuba, declaring it the most beautiful place he had ever seen; and many say that the town, Macondo in 100 Años de Soledad is also based here. It was the first capital of Cuba, yet it’s a small town, still isolated (which has its advantages and disadvantages). We were so happy to have finally arrived, that we celebrated… with a siesta
resting en route to boca de yurumi
the magical mind-of-its-own-gear-changing bike
before the Fin de Año festivities.
Our casa particular was that of a lovely couple, Miriam and Tony. They were slightly Miami-ised, but they welcomed us into their home like we were their own children (albeit, paying). The house did have its downside tho - the farmyard next to us where not only where there cockerels but it also sounded like they killed the pig every morning! Wouldn’t have been a surprise if they were - typical end of year food in Cuba is whole roasted puerco!
For the night of NYE we went to a famous paladar (private restaurant) called La Colonial. As Baracoa is surrounded by coconut and cocoa plantations, those ingredients add a sweetness and originality (v rare in Cuba!) to the local cuisine. We all had camarones con salsa de coco (prawns in coconut sauce)… deeeelicious. My other favourite eating place in the town which I discovered in later days was the Casa de Chocolate! Where u could have hot chocolate - not like we r used to… more like extra sweet chocolate soup so thick! And coconut ice cream, each for about 40centavos moneda nacional (like less than half of 1p!). Next we
hit the park where the town (tourists, locals and jininteros alike) gathers most nights. At midnight we were at “la punta”, right by the sea where they had set up a stage. Unfortunately it was a bit of an anti-climax, more like a family show. As the moment came they cried over the mic “Viva Fidel Castro! Viva la Revolución Cubana!” … and that was our start to 2008.
The rest of Baracoa im gonna have to abriviate, as I ended up staying over a week! Corinna and Patricia left after 3 days, but not before we had lots of fun together. That included a wicked but tough bike ride (was the state of the bikes that made it hard!) to Maguana beach, a beautiful secluded (minus the tourists there) small white sand beach. Another day I did another even harder bike ride (lots of hills always seeming to go up!) to “Boca de Yurumi”, the mouth of a river that comes through two cliffs to meet the sea. Amazing scenery and awesome downhills but definitely a challenge with gears that decided for themselves when to change. Unfortunately after we had been in Baracoa for about 2 days the
the white stuff tastes quite nice tho nothing like chocolate, more like lychee but the seeds are really bitter... so the secrets of chocolate remain a mystery!
weather turned not so good… well shit actually. Rain. Lots. So a lot of the things I wanted to do had to be postponed or wet.
One of the many things I loved about the town was the strong artist and musical culture. There were several artists studios and little galleries. I spent a bit of time hanging out in one artist’s studio, where I made friends with the family and watched him - Roel Caboverde and his son paint. I also bought my first real painting from him. He has a really unique style and paints typically Baracoan scenes. You can see more of work at - www.staugustine-baracoa.org
On my last day I climbed the tabletop mountain behind Baracoa called El Yunque,a muddy but not too hard hike through cocoa groves to the summit where there was a spectacular view of the town, surrounding bays, mountains and rivers. After the rain of the previous days we had to cross a river, which meant stripping to pants and t-shirt and battling chest deep through the water gripping the hand of the local guide who was also carrying my bag above his head! On the way back a guy
randomest shop ever
apparently they only sell rubber ducks
crossed with a horse!
I eventually left Baracoa (promising both myself and the many lovely people I met there to return) on a horrendous 21hr bus ride al the way back to Habana, which I only got through a under the table deal with one of Tony’s friends who worked at ASTRO, and acted hilariously suspiciously as he almost smuggled me onto the bus. The journey would’ve been ok if it hadn’t been for the FREEZING aircon hitting my neck all the way. Seeing me nearly in tears and an ice block the chauffers eventually found me a big blanket.
Back in Habana the first few days where a bit weird… I suffered from a come-down from the travelling high and I didn’t really know what to do with myself. Now that’s gone, I’m enjoying doing pretty much nothing and hanging out with all my friends again. Went to an awesome 21st bday on Friday in a house a long bus ride from the centre with the capoeira crew. I was the only non-Cuban or Mexican so I was well looked after. In the early hours of the morning we went to the “beach” to go in the water. Turned out to be just a wall in front of the sea so decided better of it. Instead we sang capoeira songs there with the birinbaos (tall instrument made of bamboo and wire see pic in previous blog), watching the huge amber-cheese-moon sink into the sea.